Transitioning Technologies For Use By First Responders

Sherry Harowitz


  • Board Armour  Backboard Cover: Repurposing the Tyvex material used to wrap houses in construction, S&T, in partnership with Advanced EMS Designs, developed a disposable backboard cover to better protect patients and responders from disease and contaminants. This product was developed, tested, and commercialized in less than eight months. It is now commercially available for about $10.
  • Next-Generation Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA): S&T partnered with the Mine Safety Appliance Company to integrate and certify S&T’s lighter and smaller profile SCBA cylinder array into a full SCBA ensemble that has been certified by the Department of Transportation and tested against National Fire Protection Association standards. This represents the first major redesign in decades of this critical piece of first responder safety equipment.
  • First Responder Support Tool (FIRST)-Bomb Response: S&T partnered with Applied Research Associates, Inc. to develop a smartphone application that provides authorized first responders the information necessary to safely control incident locations such as stand-off distances, rough damage and injury contours, nearby areas of concern (e.g., schools and daycare centers), and suggested roadblocks that could help isolate an incident. FIRST-Bomb Response also provides improvised explosive device and HAZMAT guidelines, reference information, and points of contact to call for questions and assistance. This capability is available through the Apple App store, the Android Market, and the ARA Store for laptops.
  • Semi-Autonomous Pipe Bomb End Cap Remover (SAPBER): This technology removes end caps from pipe bombs while keeping operators at a safe distance and collecting video and physical evidence from the pipe bomb. SAPBER is a small, low-cost system capable of remote operation and accommodating a range of possible pipe bomb sizes and configurations.

Interoperable Communications Solutions

  • Multi-Band Radio (MBR): To provide a successful coordinated response, emergency responders must be able to effectively communicate with all partners across jurisdictional lines, including local, regional, state, and Federal entities. Until recently, no public safety radio existed that was capable of operating on more than one radio band. S&T developed the requirements for a hand-held MBR that allows first responders to communicate with partner agencies, regardless of the band on which they operate. The first responder communities in Chicago, Illinois, Miami, Florida, and New Orleans, Louisiana participated in highly successful pilots of the technology. S&T’s efforts sparked industry interest: MBRs are now commercially available from four manufacturers (Thales Communications, Inc., Harris Corporation, Datron World Communications, and Motorola Solutions, Inc.). Recently the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Marine Corps both announced they would be procuring MBRs for operational use. This project is just one example of how FRG efforts can result in useful market competition.
  • Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP): This project enables legacy analog radio systems to interoperate with similar systems as well as with new digital systems. Given the need for standardized implementations, the VoIP Working Group is producing specifications, or implementation profiles, for the most critical VoIP interfaces. The first VoIP specification developed by the working group is the Bridging Systems Interface (BSI) Core Profile, which allows first responder agencies to seamlessly connect radio systems over an IP network regardless of the manufacturer. Thirteen manufacturers voluntarily adopted the BSI platform and others have committed to doing so in their next product cycle. This helps reduce costs for first responder agency’s system design and installation.
  • Virtual USA® (vUSA): A collaborative effort among S&T, other DHS agencies, and state and local emergency management agencies, vUSA improves information sharing among agencies and other partners. vUSA is a blend of process and technology that provides a virtual pipeline to allow data (such as the operational status of critical infrastructure or emergency vehicle locations) to be shared by different systems and operating platforms with no changes to the current system. Selected as a White House Open Government Initiative and a flagship DHS Open Government Initiative, vUSA is currently in use in 23 states. Earlier this year, FRG initiated a pilot in the Northeast to integrate vUSA and the Next-Generation Incident Command System (NICS). NICS improves first responder situational awareness, collaboration, and interagency interoperability during disaster response efforts by displaying incident information—such as road closures and fire hot spots—on a shared online map, allowing it to be shared between local agencies and local to state. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors has agreed to use vUSA/NICS as the primary way of sharing information within the County as well as with other agencies outside of San Diego County. The CALFIRE is also adopting vUSA/NICS as their incident command and data sharing system. Partnering with the DHS Office of the Chief Information Officer’s Office of Operations Coordination and Planning, S&T plans to make vUSA/NICS available as part of the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN). vUSA users now have HSIN accounts, which allows them to access a new HSIN Community of Interest that provides a suite of collaboration services such as web conferencing and instant messaging and access to new geospatial data.
  • Commercial Mobile Alert Service (CMAS): This program provides a national capability to deliver relevant, timely, and geographically-targeted messages to mobile devices. In December 2011, New York City partnered with S&T and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to conduct the first end-to-end test of the CMAS tool. CMAS has reached its initial operating capability and S&T is working on several research, development, testing, and evaluation activities designed to improve current and future system capabilities.
  • Emergency Data Exchange Language (EDXL) suite of standards: These standards help responders share critical data in any form. By sending messages to tablets, computers, and phones with EDXL-compliant software, real-time information arrives at the fingertips of those who need it most. EDXL standards are helping provide the ability to exchange all-hazard emergency alerts, notifications, and public warnings as well as to the exchange of hospital status, capacity, and resource availability/usage information among medical and health organizations and emergency information systems.


photo by USACEpublicaffairs/flickr


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